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Corruption rears its ugly head. Again. PDF Print E-mail
Nov 13, 2012 at 04:07 PM

Franco Fiorito

Roberto Formigoni

Italy is not the only country in the world where corruption exists, but when some 60 billion euros a year are reportedly lost to the legitimate economy because of corruption, this is not much of a consolation. Again, we ordinary mortals have no idea how the experts arrive at that figure of 60 billion. But it certainly makes you stop and think, particularly at a time when the economy is in deep trouble, some people have lost their jobs, more than a third of young people cannot find jobs, and most of the rest of us are being asked to make sacrifices by paying higher taxes.

The 60 billion euro figure came out of a report last January by the Italian Corte dei Conti or Court of Accounts, a European-style top-level audit institution the major function of which is to audit the executive branch of power with controls regard incoming revenues and public expenditures. But most international indexes also put Italy high up on corruption scales as compared to most other European countries.

This is not a new discovery; there is widespread awareness among observers here that corruption in the public sector - especially when combined with bureaucratic delays, inefficiency and bad management -- are seriously compromising economic growth. But in the last few weeks, several new major scandals have burst upon the scene, highlighting just how bad the situation has gotten and leading most pundits to conclude that the Clean Hands investigation of the early nineties has had absolutely no impact on the behavior of most Italians.

Twenty years ago, the Italian political system was turned on its head when a major criminal investigation led to the disintegration of two of Italy's major postwar political parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, many of who leaders were charged with illegally financing their parties through bribes, kickbacks and other forms of graft. The results included jail terms, several suicides and voluntary exiles, the formation of new political parties such as Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and national prominence for the magistrate who headed the investigation, Antonio Di Pietro (now currently under a shadow of his own).

It seemed as Italy was going to change. But recent events show this is now the case. In fact, if anything, things are worse. Back then, the focus was on the illegal ways of finding political financing which, yes, may also have enriched certain individuals but that was not the main point. Now it has become clear that the new class of politicians who steal do so primarily for themselves. In certain parties and in certain areas, ideals have gone the way of the trash can with the new pols seeing politics primarily, if not exclusively, as a fairly easy way to get rich.

In September of this year, a scandal erupted in and around the regional government of Lazio (the area which includes the Italian capital, Rome) when it became known that a regional lawmaker named Franco Fiorito, a member of the PdL party founded by Silvio Berlusconi, had embezzled something like 1.3 million euros of party money, sending part of it abroad and using other parts of it for luxury travel, the purchase of three cars and a seaside villa.

Fiorito was arrested on October 9 but his wrongdoings - which reportedly included his paying himself 31,000 euros a month for his job as the administrator of the PdL's regional parliamentary group - pale beside the system that he revealed during interrogations by investigating magistrates and which was so shocking that the regional president, Renata Polverini, elected with Berluscni's support, although she originally came from the far right Alleanza Nazionale party, was forced to resign although she herself is not under investigation. New elections are expected to be held in February or March.

Fiorito revealed that the 17 regional MPs belonging to his party had submitted almost receipts for six million euros in alleged expenses of which at least half were false or fraudulent. Over a year, the group had allocated to itself something like 21 million euros, an incredible amount given this country's financial problems, that were supposed to be spent on regional or party expenditures and that each MP had been given an extra 100,000 euros a month above and beyond their already outrageously generous salaries, far higher than any of their conterparts elsewhere in Europe. The revelations focused so much attention on the situation of regional councilors that reforms (see below) were called for by all and sundry and may actually be put in place.

Shortly thereafter a similar scandal erupted in the northern Italian region of Lombardy where Domenico Zambetti, a regional MP who is also a member of of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, was one of 20 people arrested by police in Milan on October 10, for allegedly buying votes from the 'Ndrangheta mafia syndicate. Zambetti is accused of paying two mobsters 200,000 euros for 4,000 votes (at 50 euros each) in the 2010 vote at which he was elected. Zambetti was relieved of his duties by Lombardy Governor Roberto Formigoni, himself under investigation for a different scandal involving bribery for contracts in the health care sector. But no one seems to have asked themselves who are these 4000 Italians who in the year 2010 were willing take money for selling their preferential votes. Shame, shame!

Zambetti's arrest and the accompanying corruption probe brought the number of councilors in the Lombardy regional executive and assembly who are under investigation up to 14, including Formigoni, who was first elected in 1990 and clearly has been in power too long.

Formigoni successfully resisted calls for his resignation after coming under investigation last year but on October 26, given the insistence of the Northern League, one of his former backers, agreed to dismiss the members of his government and replace them with temporary commissioners until new election are held sometime early next year. He will not be a candidate although reportedly he is (unbelievably) thinking of tossing his hat into the ring for primaries to choose a successor to Silvio Berlusconi as PdL leader and, thus, as a candidate for the premiership of Italy.

But reform appears to be on the way. According to a decree, which President Giorgio Napolitano signed last month, the number of regional councilors throughout Italy would be cut by 35% and local bodies who do not stay in line with budgets will face central-government funding cuts of 80%.

Mayors who do not keep their accounts in order will not be allowed to stand again, the premier said. The pay ofregion al presidents (who for the last few years have been called Governors, although it is not clear to me who started this), local and regional councilors will be cut sharply to the level of the "most virtuous" region, while stipends will be eliminated and all local officials will have to make public, and have certified by the Audit Court, the money they get. The pension age of local officials will be raised from 50 to 60 or 65 and will be authorized only when a councillor has served two terms, that is 10 years.

Another anti-corruption bill passed earlier this month is expected to be followed by a codicil that will determine the eligibility (or non-eligibility) for office of officials convicted of crimes or, perhaps, even under investigation. Watch this page.....

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